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Emily Grossman

Siberia, More Like It

February 13, 2011 at 12:21 AM

I almost missed Paul Rosenthal on Monday, but the Anchorage Daily News featured him in the Sunday paper with a full page photo, so luckily I made it just in time to slide into a front row seat at Christ Lutheran and glance through the program to see what was on the menu this time. 

If you don't know who violinist Paul Rosenthal is, it's not because of his lack of credentials or connections to the upper echelons of the music scene.  No, it would be because once long ago, right in the middle of a series of intense master classes with Jascha Heifetz, Paul's brother invited him to visit him up in Alaska; from that point on, he was hooked.  A pioneer in every sense of the word, Rosenthal moved up with no job and no running water, but with plenty of wide open space to grow new musical venues.  With the desire to organize ensembles to perform beautiful chamber music in beautiful surroundings, he pretty much carved the Alaskan music scene, taking other members of the Heifetz/Piatigorsky circle up to perform in the most remote locations.  Soldotna happened to be one of them.

Paul always brings the greatest musicians to town, and this evening proved to be no exception.  The featured performer was cellist Jeffrey Solow, president of ASTA.  What a treat it was to be able to sit three feet from his rock stop and feel the full impact of his gorgeous instrument!  The Beethoven piano trio was ethereal.  It lifted me out of everyday existence into an entirely different realm of music making.  It made me feel so...


I have to admit, I've hardly touched my instrument since I concluded my Brahms and Beethoven recital last December.  I'm currently not playing with the Anchorage Symphony, and I haven't had any other gigs, either.  Well, that's not true, exactly: there's the Peter Pan musical--if 80's style disco pit music counts. 

As I sit through each pit rehearsal, though, I can't help but think: this is it. This is your future musical career in Soldotna Alaska. And the thought of it absolutely frightens me. It's not that I hate playing in the community musical. It's not that I'm discontent with being a much-needed violin teacher in this town: on the contrary, I love cultivating musical skills in others. But just as I keep telling each of my students how important it is to have personal goals and opportunities to perform, I also need mine.  One of my dreams was playing in a professional level string quartet.  Now, after all the hard work I put into finally achieving a professional level of playing over the past seven years, it seems I've nowhere to use it, and I'm beginning to waste away inside. I'm worried that maybe Soldotna has no place for a professional violinist; we've certainly no cellists.  So now what? Do I stay and see if things change? Or do I go somewhere else and see if I can find what I'm looking for?

As much as I loved watching Paul Rosenthal play a Beethoven piano trio, it was almost too much to bear, for even though I have the same dream of making chamber music in a beautiful place, I don't seem to have the means or the skills to assemble the musicians here to make it happen.  I don't need a big audience.  I don't need a salary.  It doesn't even have to be chamber music.  I just want other willing and able people, kindred spirits, to make music with me.

Yeah.  I'm a little lonely these days.

From Christian Vachon
Posted on February 14, 2011 at 1:10 AM

Hi Emily,

I just read your post.  I have heard of Mr. Rosenthal; a great reputation indeed.  With all that you have accomplished, written and said on this site, why don't you contact him?  Perhaps he might be interested in a collaboration with another fine musical mind from his "neck of the woods" so to speak...  Perhaps this might open doors which may be well-needed and well-deserved, well, whatever your mind and soul chooses...

If you don't agree with this suggestion, then remember that my brain may be frozen by both the equally frozen Canadian (and Québec) weather and truly spectacular Québec micro-beers...


P.S. Jokes aside aside, I am really not kidding about my initial suggestion... 

From Mendy Smith
Posted on February 14, 2011 at 1:39 AM


Do you use 'sun lamps' in the winter? 

As a side note and in all seriousness, you are welcome to come down here to Houston for some chamber music playing.  I got more space than you can shake a stick at and plenty of  friends who would welcome you, some pro, some advanced amateur.  Though Houston is not my favorite city to live in, it has been my most musically active one.

Leave the cold weather and bears up in Alaska, but bring salmon!


From Emily Grossman
Posted on February 14, 2011 at 2:59 AM

Thanks Christian for the advice, and good to hear from you again!  You know, I had a day to think about what I had written, and woke up feeling somewhat determined again.  Around here, you can't just sit around and mope, or the wolves'll get you.  I brainstormed and thought of exactly what you wrote, and began hunting for a means of contacting him.  Now mind you, the caliber of musicians he's used to dealing with is much higher than my current level of ability; though I've taken the stage with him, it was as the page turner.  But I thought maybe he would have some tips for elevating the classical music scene in my area.  Alaska has so much to offer, and I'm sure I could get people interested in coming up.  I've been toying with the idea of having a musical retreat/camp here where I live, and have gotten people interested, but I have no clue how to get the ball rolling.  That's where I thought he might be able to offer some ideas.  I need to be in touch with the right people.  Maria Allison would be able to point me in the right direction, too, so I'll bring it up with her when I get a chance.

I could probably get people up for a visit, but what I really need is a good cellist to live here.  I'm not sure how I could go about importing one--a particularly hardy variety that could handle the winters...

Mendy, I do take vitamin D and fish oil, but since I'm already wired as a melancholy, I've never been able to avoid SAD.  A sun lamp might be a good idea.  I make it as far south as Dallas every winter, but Houston is not quite on the way...  It would be so nice to meet you!

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on February 14, 2011 at 3:19 AM

Emily, I know that you will laugh at me and wonder why I complain, but even in Montreal, it's not easy to find chamber partners to play music with...

I had that wonderful idea to play easy duets in concerts because my normal stuff is too difficult for me to play it in concerts during the challenging school year.  I was sure I would find another amateur student (or more to do trios or quartets) in a similar situation to mine at the conservatory...  But they are just as busy and many have quitted!  I could surely find an orchestra but I wanted chamber music of some sort.  Now, it's not a priority due to my studies but I saw that is was not as easy as just asking in your music school!   Too bad...At least I can play them sometimes in my lessons with my teacher!   

So I imagine the challenge in Alaska... 

Keep searching, you'll surely find musical partners!   It's not a better idea to find anything fast like that and not be happy because it was not the group you wanted to be in...

Good luck!


ps:  I wouldn't complain about Siberia too much... awful good violinists were "produced" there haha  

From Emily Grossman
Posted on February 14, 2011 at 3:57 AM

It's because they have nothing else to do!

I think we need some sort of chamber ensemble match-making website that assembles string quartets according to personalities and playing level/style.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on February 14, 2011 at 3:51 AM

Dallas is only a 5 hour drive away.  For me, that is just a hop, skip and a jump.

The sun lamp from what I understand is vital for those living at the extreme ends of the earth.  There are certain vitamins (D & E) that don't metabolize well unless your eyes are exposed to direct sunlight.  When my father worked in Alaska, he spoke of office cubicles being equipped with these lamps along side with computers and phones to stave off SAD. 

When I moved from CA to OR, I switched out all of my standard bulbs to natural light bulbs.  This helped quite a bit, though the foul weather in the winter still left me feeling isolated.  Over time, I took winter as an opportunity to work on techniques that I would have otherwise spent outdoors.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on February 14, 2011 at 4:30 AM

Hey, winter is not that bad...  (except the shovelling)

I find that 4 seasons adds variety!

As for winter, nothing more romantic than a walk under the snowflakes with Christmas lights, or skiing in the woods, skating on a frozen river, snowballs wars,  sleighrides etc...   Of course, I love the beach and palm trees (who wouldn't...) but I consider the snow as part of who I am and could not imagine moving permanently down south.    

Last year, we received home Caraïbean people that had never seen snow of their life in their country.  I can't even tell how crazy they were to see snow, shop winter coats and try skis for the first time...  It was litterally a fantasy for them!  That's when I realized "god, we have something wonderful and we don't even appreciate it!" 

Perhaps people don't like winter because we are busy in cities and don't dress hot ennough because city people are "in style" and don't dress like esquimos even though they should for their comfort...   I agree for the darkness but we have electricity nowadays...

But sure, everyone has their opinion on seasons! 

Oups I'm getting off topic...

I agree for that website ides Emily!


From Tom Holzman
Posted on February 14, 2011 at 1:20 PM

Emily - I can see why you admire Rosenthal.  He is in many respects a kindred spirit for you.  I can also sympathize with your concerns about life in Soldotna.  I suspect that when my great-great grandfather and his two sons arrived in Denver in the late 1870s as the first serious classical musicians in that city, they must have felt much the same way as you feel -- musically lonely and isolated.  They did make good lives for themselves, but only one really remained a full-time musician, and it took him years to develop the classical music scene (a book written about music in Colorado up to 1889 describes his heroic efforts, mostly unsuccessful up to that time, to interest the locals in classical music).  So, you are not the first person faced with this dilemna, and you certainly have the necessary personality to create the world you would like up there.  If not, come to DC.  There is plenty of opportunity here.  Good luck!

From Emily Liz
Posted on February 14, 2011 at 5:29 PM

I love the idea of a website that matches up players. I wish something like that could be done on a national level! I visit friends in a little Minnesota Mississippi River town every once and a while, and their arts council does just that: match up musicians for opportunities to play chamber music. It's called the weekly Music Hour or something like that. So I know the idea can work!

From Tom Holzman
Posted on February 14, 2011 at 9:21 PM

There is a chamber music website like that.   American Chamber Music Society or something.  It provides for you to post your information and get in touch with others on the website who might work. 

From Marc Mouries
Posted on February 15, 2011 at 1:09 AM


Tom thanks for the hint. It's called  The Chamber Music Network and the site is at the address:

From Laurie Niles
Posted on February 15, 2011 at 1:36 AM

 Yes, I've heard of people using this when they were traveling! 

From Omar Ibrahim
Posted on February 15, 2011 at 3:12 PM


That's a sort of coincidence! Saturday,My  teacher will have a concert playing a beethoven trio In Cairo.

We have cellists,but I heard that a better cellist is coming from abroad.My teacher is so enthusiastic because this Beethoven trio has not been played in Egypt since decades!.I hope i can record the concert on my camera if you wish to watch it.Oh and i hope it was not delayed as a result of what happened in Egypt,you know.

Omar Ibrahim

From Terez Mertes
Posted on February 15, 2011 at 4:52 PM

Emily, you have my sympathies, and your lament was so heartfelt and beautiful. Not that that helps, at times like this, to hear "...yes, but you're great at writing about what's making you feel miserable inside!" But it really was beautifully rendered. And so honest. (Always the most interesting writing to read...)

Wishing you good luck in following up on the good suggestions mentioned here.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on February 15, 2011 at 7:34 PM

Thanks, Terez.  Sometimes, when we're honest with ourselves about fears and disappointments, we can discover a way to change our outlook.  Maybe I can get something going with people.  Still thinking about leaving town, though.

Thanks for the ACMP tip, Tom and Marc.  That would certainly come in handy when traveling out of state.

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